Photo of people standing around papers on a table and brainstorming with text over top that says: Branding and Positioning: What's the difference and why does it matter?


On the surface, branding and positioning seem to be synonymous terms – often used interchangeably in marketing settings to describe a process for how businesses can stand apart from their competition. While this may be true in theory, the concepts are, in fact, distinct from one another.  Understanding the key differences between the two, including the separate roles they play in building a strong business, can better inform your marketing decisions and drive quality results.   

Branding is getting customers to speak highly of you when you’re not in the room

Your brand is your reputation – a set of characteristics, feelings and expectations that others associate with your company, product(s) or service(s).  Branding, therefore, is the art of shaping how you want your company to be perceived. More than a logo, tagline or design palette, branding is providing a consistent experience for customers at every touchpoint.

Positioning is marketshare and mindshare  

Brand positioning is the process of differentiating yourself in the market and establishing a preference for your business in the mind of your target customer, relative to competitive offerings in the same category. The goal is to have your business be one of the first names customers think of in a competitive set, and to ultimately become the go-to product or service of choice.    

Every company has a story to tell, and branding is the mechanism for crafting and telling that story.

What are the elements of branding?

To cultivate how you want your business to be perceived by customers, you need to develop: 

  • A  mission statement  which clearly defines the purpose of your business for both your employees and customers.   
  • A vision statement  that sets forth what your business aspirations are and a vision for the future.  
  • Core values  that represent the fundamental beliefs, behaviors and qualities you value in your culture. These values will guide your business decisions as well as your interactions with fellow employees and customers.   
  • A  brand personality or set of human characteristics, attributes or emotions that best embody your business. Is it serious, friendly, comical, authoritative, fun or energetic? This will serve to shape the voice and tone of your marketing communications.  
  • A  visual Identity  that is recognizable and memorable and can serve as a guideline for consistent brand standards across all internal and external channels and platforms.  
    • Logo  
    • Symbols  
    • Colors  
    • Typography  
    • Graphics  
    • Photography  
    • Packaging  

Create a winning brand positioning strategy

Before you can develop how you want to position your business, product or service you need to:   

  • Define your ideal customer  
    • Segment the market by demographics, psychographics, geographic location, and behavior
    • Conduct customer research (focus groups, surveys or interviews) to understand your target audience better – what are their values, behaviors and pain points?
    • Develop buyer personas
  • Choose a competitive frame of reference:  Which product, service or market category do you think you can compete in?   
    • Engage in a perceptual mapping exercise to:   
      • identify points of parity—or similarities—between your brand and successful competitors  
      • find gaps/opportunities – ways your product or service fulfills a current or anticipated need
  • Isolate your unique selling proposition (USP): What is the feature and/or benefit that allows you to outperform the competition?   
    • Is the feature… great taste, convenience, socially responsible, quick delivery, personalized service, low-cost?
    • Is the benefit… time savings, cost savings, convenience, increased control, enjoyment, relaxation, more choices, feeling better about oneself, being more attractive?
  • Craft a brand positioning statement 
    • A brand positioning statement is an internal blueprint for all strategic and tactical marketing activities. It’s a short summary of all the key elements of your strategy including:
      • Target audience
      • Market category  
      • Unique selling
      • Reason(s) to believe. What proof do you have that you will keep your promise?  

To help you get started with creating a brand positioning statement, use this template for reference:

For [your target audience] who [target audience need], [your brand name] provides [main benefit that sets your product apart from competitors] because [reason why your company, product or service is different].  

Examples of effective brand positioning statements:

Nike: For athletes in need of high-quality, fashionable athletic wear, Nike provides customers with top-performing sports apparel and shoes made of the highest quality materials. Its products are the most advanced in the athletic apparel industry because of Nike’s commitment to innovation and investment in the latest technologies.

Avis Car Rental: Avis Car Rental is for business travelers who want express business services from a car rental company that eliminates wait times caused by leisure travelers. Unlike Hertz, Avis Car Rental is the only brand offering express business services because we are focused on meeting the needs of business travelers worldwide.

Positioning Precedes Branding  

Branding and positioning may be intertwined but you can’t begin the branding process until you’ve first defined the market category you’ll compete in and your unique selling proposition or point of differentiation. Once those pieces are in place, you can then use the elements of branding to reinforce a positive impression in the minds of customers.

Differentiating your business in today’s overcrowded marketplace is no easy feat but having a solid branding and positioning strategy to build on can provide a solid foundation for business growth, customer engagement and loyalty.

Headshot of Writing by Design Account Manager Tara Dosh

Tara Dosh has nearly 15 years of public relations and marketing communications experience in the news distribution, fitness franchising, legal and book publishing industries. In prior roles, Dosh was responsible for managing and executing public relations and marketing campaigns and initiatives for diverse brands and audiences. Notable project experience includes landing a book deal for the CEO of Anytime Fitness, securing media placements in top-tier media outlets such as Forbes, “Today” and Minneapolis Star Tribune, and writing SEO-driven website copy for more than 60 law firms across the country.